Aki’s Rugby Story – Parent

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                                           Yuki and Hiro Soga.  May 20, 2012. 

Like many parents, one my first thoughts on learning my son Hiro had signed up to play rugby at South Burlington High School was safety. After all, these guys made bone crushing hits in what looked like a free-for-all on the field without the protection of pads or helmets. And I was no novice when it came to being a rugby spectator, having watched my older brother play at Dartmouth.

What I learned in that first season, and in the years that followed, was that safety comes first. When I came to know the South Burlington coaching staff – Tiff Renaud, Tree Bertram and Kevin O’Brien – and watched the quality of officiating at youth rugby matches, it was clear that this was something that was built into the game – both in the rules and in the culture. Also built into the game was respect, sportsmanship and camaraderie.
And about playing with no pads – you tend to be less reckless hitting your opponent when you’ve got no protection yourself.
The youth rugby program is focused on teaching novice player the game – there’s little opportunity to play rugby in Vermont before high school. I also love many students – especially young women – came to the program having had little or no experience in other sports. Imagine choosing a game as physical as rugby as your initiation into organized sports. That such students felt safe and welcomed says much about the game and the coaches.
That’s why I had no qualms when Hiro talked his younger brother Yuki – much smaller – to join him on the team three years later.
The captains on the field are held responsible for the conduct of their teammates. They are the only ones allowed to approach the officials. The the ref will brook no bad behavior from the sideline, either. I’ve seen play stopped at VYRA matches, while the official told parents on the field to behave.
Then there’s the social at the end of the game, when the home team sets out food and drink for players of both sides, giving players who had been fierce opponents on the field just minutes before to end the day as a group of young people united by a love for the game.
Hiro and Yuki played together for only one year, Yuki as scrumhalf and Hiro as flyhalf – the two positions that restart the play from a scrum, sort of like the center and quarterback. On the field, they each developed a level of focus, intensity and leadership that I’d not seen before.
The team, too, developed over the years. During Hiro’s four years at SBHS, I’m not sure they ever scored an outright win. In Yuki’s senior year, the team won the state championship, a game Hiro was on hand to see and celebrated as much as any of the active players.
As a parent, I can’t thank rugby enough for what my sons learned from the game and how they grew on the field. But seeing my two boys play even for one season as teammates was the greatest gift.
Aki Soga

Nora’s Rugby Story – Player

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                        Nora Rogers playing for SCRFU Griffins 2016

I was a never a team sport kind of girl. I passed through ballet, tap and gymnastics for a time, but my real passion was horse back riding. I guess you could have called me “the horse girl,” well at least all the way up until my junior year of high school. That’s when I found rugby. I knew nothing about it, I had never seen it, and my only connection was a couple of friends who wanted me to play. They tried to recruit me in my sophomore year, but I was convinced that I would die because in my eyes playing rugby was nothing short of crazy. Boy was I right, but not in the way you may think. It was crazy…crazy fun. I was dragged to a practice by friends, and after that one day, you couldn’t have stopped me from playing if you tried(no pun intended).

I fell in love with rugby that year and it has become a mainstay in my life ever since. My coaches, Tiffany Renaud, Tree Bertram, and Kevin O’Brian taught me so much more than rugby, they taught me trust, teamwork, passion, determination, courage, compassion, respect, and confidence. I not only grew as a player, but also as a person. I became a leader, both on the team and in other aspects of my life, I pushed myself to become better, and to work harder, to embody all that rugby is in my everyday life. I only have one regret from my high school rugby days, and it is that I didn’t start playing earlier.

When I first started college at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2011,  rugby was a bit of a lost cause. The men’s team was struggling to stay a recognized club sport and the women’s team…well they just didn’t exist. I didn’t go to college to play rugby, but I wasn’t about to give it up because there wasn’t a team for me to join, so I played with the boys. My goal became to build a team for that next girl who came in looking for a rugby team to call family and I knew I wasn’t alone. There were about five of us girls who practiced with the men that year, all the while making plans for what we really wanted, our own team. It took us the better part of two years but we finally did it. In the fall of 2013 we played our first official game as RIT Women’s Rugby in six years, and we won, shutting out the other team 39-0. I’ve been out of college now for two years but the team I helped build is still rucking. It’s still a small team, they struggle to get the numbers and funding they need each season but they don’t give up, they have worked too hard and come too far to just let it go. I am so proud to have been a founding member of the RIT Women’s Rugby club and so thankful that in the years to come there will be a place for that next high school rugby girl to find a family.

Today I live in California, just about as far away from the great 802 as you can get without leaving the country. I thought maybe I would retire my rugby boots at the age of 23 but after 6 months of not playing I couldn’t sit around any longer. I joined the San Fernando Women’s Rugby Club right before their first game of the 2016 season and it’s the best decision I’ve made since moving across country. I have only known these women for a year but it feels like I’ve known them my whole life, and I am so thankful for the family rugby has granted me.

Trying new things can be scary, especially when they involve tackling, but if we never tried new things then we would never move forward. I would not be where I am today in all aspects of life without this amazing sport and it’s incredible community. Yes, rugby is a sport with a ball and running, but it is really so much more than that. It is a life style, one shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and those people are some of the best you will ever meet.

I know this is getting long, but I want to leave this note for parents, especially those of young girls. If your daughter comes home and says, “I want to try rugby,” don’t tell her she can’t just because you are scared. She is tougher than she looks, and rugby will not only keep her healthy and strong, it will provide her with the building blocks she needs to become a strong, confident, and independent woman. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote of mine: “I play rugby…what’s your superpower?”